How Ford Mustang has steered through history

The 2015 Shelby Mustang GT350R.
NEWSPRESS

The 2015 Shelby Mustang GT350R.

From its start in 1964, Ford Mustang has become an icon around the world - a symbol of confidence and youthful spirit.

But while most have focused on the pony car's exterior styling, there's another big feature that has set Mustangs apart from other cars - and each of its years - over the decades: the steering wheel.

Two spokes. Three spokes. Four spokes. Mustang has seen them all. Just as the rest of the auto industry saw air bags, then buttons, come to steering wheels, so has Mustang.

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Really, Mustang steering wheels are window into progress in the auto industry when it comes to safety and convenience over the past half century.

The wheels were big in the early days, for instance, because some of the cars lacked power steering. Cruise control came to steering wheels as a button, then so did everything else.

A 1964 Ford Mustang. PHOTO: NEWSPRESS

Here's how Ford lays out the progression of Mustang steering wheels:

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1964: Most paid attention to the striking looks of the original Mustang, especially its long nose, which denoted power, and its short trunk. But the steering wheels carried through its racing theme, with three bare-aluminum spokes and a simulated wood rim with a centre horn ring. The wheel's large 16-inch diameter allowed for easy turning because power steering was optional.

1967: As Mustang matured, new features were added. A tilt-away wheel with seven adjustments allowed drivers to choose the steering position that fitted their preference. It also made it easier to get in. A new, faster ratio (20.3:1) power steering system became available in 1967, making turning quicker.

1968: Safety became a priority, and a collapsible steering column was added to Mustang aimed at reducing the possibility of injury in a crash. To bolster this feature, the redesigned two-spoke steering wheel featured a larger, cushioned centre section. The centre hub horn control was replaced with the small, metal half-circle on the bottom half.

Steering wheels of Ford Mustangs (clockwise from top left), 1964, 1967, 1984 and 1968. PHOTOS: FORD

1974: With the launch of the all-new second-generation Mustang II, the three-spoke wheel was replaced with a leather-wrapped two-spoke wheel. Mustang II introduced power rack-and-pinion steering. Those that had it were given a 15-inch wheel instead of the standard 16-incher.

A 1970 Ford Mustang Cobra Jet. PHOTO: NEWSPRESS

1979: More European design language was adopted inside and out, and the two-spoke wheel from Mustang II became a four-spoke. Cruise control was operated from a steering-wheel button.

1984: The high-performance SVO version of the Mustang included an aggressive tilting and telescoping three-spoke steering wheel. It had a thicker rim and smaller outside diameter for a sportier look and feel. The Ford logo and "SVO" were embossed into the leather on the centre of the wheel.

The 1994 Ford Mustang. PHOTO: NEWSPRESS

1990: Mustang received its first airbag as standard equipment. Because the airbag was located in the centre of the steering wheel, the horn was moved from the centre to two spoke-mounted buttons.

1994: The launch of the fourth-generation Mustang included a nod to the original 1964 pony car, with a twin cockpit layout and sculpted modern styling for the steering wheel and airbag. Various buttons became easier to use, while allowing for the driver to keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Horn buttons were replaced with a hinged airbag cover, acting as horn control at the wheel's centre.

2005: Based on the 1965-1967 Mustang design, a three-spoke wheel appeared on the fifth-generation Mustang. This wheel was available with standard urethane spokes, or optional aluminum spokes with the interior upgrade package. Unlike the steering wheels it was based on, this rim came wrapped in leather.

2010: Many buttons were added for SYNC voice control technology, including volume, phone, audio input selections and track/station selectors. The centre badge changed from over-molded acrylic to high-quality spun aluminum with a polished aluminum horse, or snake in the case of Shelby GT500. Aluminum spokes hooking into the leather mimicked design elements of the centre stack.

2013: In further refinement of the Mustang steering wheel as the in-car tech control centre, the wheel was revised to include a four-way control button, plus an "OK" button for instrument cluster screen control. Boss 302 and Shelby GT500 Mustangs got a race-inspired Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel.

The 2015 Ford Mustang. PHOTO: NEWSPRESS

2015: A totally redesigned steering wheel for the all-new 50th anniversary Mustang incorporates more controls than ever. Up to 20 buttons can be found on the wheel of the sixth-generation pony car.

Shelby GT350 and GT350R Mustangs feature a race-inspired flat-bottom steering wheel with additional driver controls. Shelby drivers can make myriad adjustments to the car without taking their hands from the wheel.

-USA Today/TNS

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